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Legal-marijuana bill draws faint cheers in El Dorado County

By: Roger Phelps, The Telegraph
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Powerful national voices have joined a chorus to legalize marijuana, but local medical pot patients and caregivers are only guardedly optimistic. A pair of U.S. Congressmen July 30 proposed legalizing possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana. Legislators Barney Frank, D-Mass. and Ron Paul, R-Tex. say the issue is simply liberty from government intrusion into citizens’ personal lives. Replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcoholic beverages would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 billion and $14 billion per year, according to a June 2005 report by Dr. Jeffrey Miron, visiting professor of economics at Harvard University. The report has been endorsed by more than 530 distinguished economists, led by well-known right-wing thinker Milton Friedman. Frank is a senior Democrat and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. On the House Financial Services Committee, Paul serves as the vice-chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee. “I don’t think that it is the government’s business to tell you how to spend your leisure time,” Frank said in announcing the bill. “There are a lot of things people do that I don’t do, and I think that they should be free to do them. There are things that I do that other people don’t do, and I ought to be free to do them.” Matt Vaughn, director of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of El Dorado County, said, “You have to go through the motions to get the issue out there.” A 100-gram quantity of marijuana is equivalent to a little more than 3.5 ounces, enough for dozens of cigarettes. “It looks like this bill is somewhat far out compared to earlier attempts,” Vaughn said. Elaine Roller, a volunteer at the caregivers’ center, said the bill could do no harm. “Hopefully, it’ll get somewhere,” Roller said. Although bipartisan, Frank said, House Resolution 5843 has little chance of becoming law immediately. Rather it is a statement about liberty from government intrusion, he said. Hundreds of economists have signed an open letter to President Bush calling for “an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition,” adding, “We believe such a debate will favor a regime in which marijuana is legal but taxed and regulated like other goods.” Folsom currently lacks a group organized around medical marijuana, but a total of 31 people expressed interest on a Web log in such a group. In August 2006, Folsom passed an ordinance prohibiting medical-marijuana dispensaries in the city “until the discrepancy is resolved between federal and state laws with respect to medical marijuana.” Research on marijuana enforcement cited by Frank, Paul and Friedman is found in Harvard University Prof. Jeffrey Miron’s paper, “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,” which concludes the following: - Replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of legal regulation would save approximately $7.7 billion in government expenditures on prohibition enforcement – $2.4 billion at the federal level and $5.3 billion at the state and local levels. - Revenue from taxation of marijuana sales would range from $2.4 billion per year if marijuana were taxed like ordinary consumer goods to $6.2 billion if it were taxed like alcohol or tobacco. Miron estimates that eliminating drug prohibition would likely cut the homicide rate in the United States by 25 to75 percent. He concludes evidence consistently suggests prohibition does not reduce usage, and that enforcement increases the violent-crime rate. “It is, of course, true that some people ruin their lives with drugs,” Miron writes in the research paper. “The right question for policy analysis, however, is not whether drugs are sometimes misused but whether policy reduces that misuse, and at what cost. The best available evidence shows that prohibition reduces drug use only modestly, and most of this reduction is for casual users rather than ‘addicts.’ It is hard to see, therefore, how any benefits from prohibition could possibly outweigh its incredible costs.” Miron’s report was largely paid for by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington DC group advocating the review and liberalization of marijuana laws. Ironically, left-wing progressive populist Jim Hightower, a former Texas agriculture commissioner, calls for legalization only of hemp, the non-psychoactive variety of cannabis sativa, which is on the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s controlled-substance list. He supports North Dakota farmers’ request to grow hemp to supply U.S. industries using it to make a variety of common items such as cloth and paper. The industries now import hemp from Canada. “Never mind that you couldn’t get high if you smoked a bale of hemp, the drug nannies have outlawed its production,” Hightower has said. Frank and Paul have become bipartisan champions of several liberty-based issues, including an effort to block federal prohibition of online gambling. The Telegraph’s Roger Phelps can be reached at rogerp@goldcountry-media.com, or post a comment at folsomtelegraph.com